Fol. 173

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Jean Poyer

St. John the Baptist: Baptism of Christ
Border: John the Baptist Preaching

Hours of Henry VIII, in Latin
Illuminated by Jean Poyer

France, Tours
ca. 1500
256 x 180 mm

The Dannie and Hettie Heineman Collection; deposited in 1962, given in 1977

MS H.8 (fol. 173)
Item description: 

Illuminated around 1500 by the artist Jean Poyer, The Hours of Henry VIII receives its name from the possible but unproven eighteenth-century tradition that holds King Henry of England once owned this splendid manuscript. By following the simple instructions, you can explore every painting of this Renaissance masterpiece and learn how Books of Hours helped their readers to pray.

Books of Hours contain more or less standard texts—Calendar, Gospel Lessons, Hours of the Virgin, Hours of the Cross, Hours of the Holy Spirit, Penitential Psalms with Litany, Office of the Dead, and Suffrages—as well as a number of common accessory prayers. Based on the frequency and variety of added devotions, it appears that scribes included these for owners who wished to personalize their prayer books.

Page description: 

St. John the Baptist: Baptism of Christ
Border: John the Baptist Preaching (fol. 173)

Around A.D. 27, St. John the Baptist moved to the desert of Judea near the river Jordan, where he preached penance, the coming kingdom of God, and baptism for the remission of sins; he lived on locusts and wild honey and wore a camel's hair garment.

While St. John is normally depicted wearing a leather girdle and a garment made from camel's hair, Poyer clothed him in a camel skin instead, with the camel's head and even a paw bumping about the saint's knees. John's long hair and scruffy beard identify him as a hermit.

St. John baptized Jesus in the river, recognizing him as the Redeemer when the Holy Spirit descended above him in the form of a dove. In the miniature, an angel waits on the opposite bank with Christ's robe.

In the margin, John preaches to the multitude in a forest, his pulpit formed by a branch hori- zontally attached to two tree trunks. (Feast day: June 24)

St. John the Baptist
The Archangel Gabriel told John's elderly parents, Zacharias, a Jewish priest, and Elizabeth, the Virgin Mary's cousin, that they would have a son named John. After Gabriel informed Mary that she, too, would have a son, the two women visited each other (the Visitation); on that occasion John leaped in his mother's womb at the presence of the yet unborn Jesus. Although the Golden Legend says they were childhood playmates, John and Jesus did not meet again until manhood.

St. John's outspoken preaching led to his martyrdom. He publicly censured Governor Herod Antipas for his incestuous marriage with his brother's wife and was subsequently imprisoned in the fortress of Machaerus. The dancer Salome, who had attracted Herod's notice through her dancing at his birthday feast, demanded and received the Baptist's head on a platter.